Opitz staying loose, producing in postseason play

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Arkansas' Dominic Fletcher and Casey Opitz celebrate after scoring against Ole Miss Monday June 10, 2019 during the NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville. Arkansas won 14-1 and will advance to the College World Series in Omaha.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas' Dominic Fletcher and Casey Opitz celebrate after scoring against Ole Miss Monday June 10, 2019 during the NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville. Arkansas won 14-1 and will advance to the College World Series in Omaha.

FAYETTEVILLE — Casey Opitz was far from uptight in the moments before Arkansas took the field for Game 3 of the Fayetteville Super Regional on Monday.

As Razorbacks players stood on the dirt a step outside of the team's dugout, a camera caught the sophomore catcher planting a kiss on the cheek of Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin, who shook his head and almost immediately wiped his face clean on the shoulder of his jersey.

Third baseman Jacob Nesbit, standing behind Opitz and Martin, just smiled and clapped his throwing hand into the palm of his glove.

"If you ask him (he will kiss you), or you don’t even have to ask him. It’s usually a surprise," Martin said. "I asked him, ‘Hey, kiss me, Opitz.’ I didn’t think he’d actually do it in front of the crowd, but he did.

"I guess that’s just Opitz for you."

Once the game started, the catcher played as free and loose as his pre-game antics, and if that continues, Arkansas' stay at the College World Series could last as long as last season's.

Batting just .232 on the season entering the super regional finale, Opitz delivered a crucial run-scoring hit in the Razorbacks' four-run second inning and three-run third from the 7-hole. In the sixth inning, he set the 14-1 final score with a two-run home run, a no-doubter to right field off Rebels reliever Parker Caracci.

Opitz, who the weekend before was named to the Fayetteville Regional All-Tournament team, was just happy to come through offensively with the team's season on the line. But him producing big hits in the bottom-third of the order is something Arkansas has come to expect.

Opitz's bases-loaded single up the middle in the sixth inning against TCU on June 1 broke a scoreless tie and plated two runs, giving Arkansas an edge entering the late innings. The base hit proved to be the difference in the Razorbacks' 3-1 win, which pushed them into the regional final.

"I just put myself in good situations to hit and was lucky enough to come through," Opitz said Monday. "Nothing really changed (with my approach). I didn’t get too down on myself and just waited for the right pitches. It worked out."

His other clutch hits this season include a walk-off single against Missouri on March 17 to cap a sweep of the Tigers, and a single to drive in the winning run in the 10th inning against Tennessee on April 28, securing another sweep.

During Game 3, Martin said there was some chatter among players that it was about time Opitz and Heston Kjerstad, who walked in to the winner-take-all game 4-for-27 against Ole Miss on the season, started clicking at the plate.

The two combined for six hits - two home runs - and eight RBI in the win.

"He’s been grinding all year and struggled a little bit lately, but that’s just part of it," Martin added of Opitz. "Just proud of him for keeping his head up. He’s just a leader, and that’s what we need."

He's also been a calming influence for Arkansas' pitching staff, especially for the younger arms, and could be a difference-maker should the Razorbacks find themselves in a close game in Omaha. He's thrown out nearly 50 percent (21-of-45) of would-be base stealers this season.

Opitz essentially serves as a coach on the field, too, right-hander Isaiah Campbell says, and understands how to call games in a manner that aligns with opponents' scouting reports.

"If coach (Matt) Hobbs and coach (Dave) Van Horn don’t see something," Campbell added, "he can kind of come out to the pitcher who's throwing and help us and keep us on the right track.

"Having him behind the plate and at the dish this year, it’s been a blessing."

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